Pickups, like firearms, come in different sizes and serve different purposes. And like firearms, you can get into trouble if you don’t have enough firepower—or have more than you can handle. Most of us don’t have a garage filled with various-sized vehicles for a variety of purposes.

Pickups, like firearms, come in different sizes and serve different purposes. And like firearms, you can get into trouble if you don’t have enough firepower—or have more than you can handle. Most of us don’t have a garage filled with various-sized vehicles for a variety of purposes. Common sense requires a compromise based on how many people and how much cargo you want to haul, and how much weight you want to tow. What makes a heavy-duty pickup heavy duty?

The short answer is capability in terms of cargo capacity and towing capabilities. The automotive industry defines heavy-duty pickups, which are made only by GM, RAM and Ford, as those that have the 250/2500 designation or higher. Many of us still use the terms ¾-ton (for the 250/2500) and 1 ton (for the 350/3500), but these names have little basis in reality because the cargo capacity for some of today’s “¾-ton” pickups is 2 tons and the “1 ton” can actually carry more than 3½ tons.

And when it comes to towing, these trucks can really get the job done, with maximum towing capacities exceeding 22,000 pounds. That’s more than 11 tons, ladies and gentlemen. To haul and tow these capacities, these trucks need a lot more than just torque and horsepower, which they have in spades. They also need heavyduty components in almost every aspect of the truck’s design and build. It takes frame strength to handle heavy cargo loads and heavy trailers.

It also takes frame strength to withstand the forces applied by powerful diesel engine torque. Stronger alloys and computer-assisted design for frame shapes have resulted in much stronger and lighter pickup truck frames. Beefing up frames to keep them from being twisted into pretzel shapes speaks to some other power-related concerns. Any motorhead can tell you that power always exposes the weakest link in a drivetrain, which means engineers had to come up with stronger clutches, bigger gears and tougher drivelines.

Axles, hubs, brakes, wheels, tires—all bigger and tougher. The power to pull and haul to capacity generates a lot of heat, which must be handled through robust cooling systems for the engine and transmission. The power to operate the brakes and steering on a vehicle capable of hauling heavy loads also needs to be beefed up.


Heavy-duty pickups might look a lot like their little brothers on the outside, but they have to meet some serious work challenges to earn the HD designation. There are several downsides to heavy-duty pickups and their cost tops the list. These trucks are expensive to purchase, expensive to operate, expensive to maintain and expensive to repair. All of those heavy-duty components that enable the trucks to do their jobs cost more than lighter-duty vehicle parts. All that “bigger and tougher” comes with a higher price tag.

Operating bigger engines takes more fuel. Heavy-duty pickups have big fuel tanks, and you’ll be forking over a good portion of your budget every time you visit the local filling station. Higher oil capacities, bigger filters and more man hours add up to higher maintenance costs. Bigger tires and bigger brakes cost more to replace. When a heavy-duty pickup breaks down, almost everything costs more to repair.

Blow a diesel engine or an HD transmission and you’re looking at some serious repair bills. Downsides aside, for hunters who need a heavy duty pickup, there are no substitutes. If you haul a truck camper, tow trailers more than 8,000 pounds or need a heavy-duty pickup for your business, today’s new heavy-duty models are stronger and more sophisticated than ever. Matching a pickup to your use is the key.Many of the extra expenses associated with heavy-duty pickups can be avoided by going with a “half-ton” or 150/1500 model.

You get the same basic wheel base and cab configurations with a lower investment all the way around. Hunters planning to buy a new pickup need to do their homework, and most of the research should be spent in the towing guides published by the truck manufacturers. These guides will provide the exact payload and towing capacities of the various models.

As you study the guides, keep in mind that the configurations within each truck series, whether it’s 1500, 2500 or 3500, will make a big difference in the capabilities listed. Changes in cab type, engine, transmission, bed length, 2WD/4WD, dually/SRW and gear ratio change what the truck can haul and tow. Once you have the capabilities dialed- in for your planned uses, you can decide what trim level you want.

If your crew, your dogs and your kids will be bringing the outdoors into the cab, you might want the wash-it-out-witha- fire-hose model. However, if your truck is not just for hunting, but also for date nights and family vacations, you might choose one of the more refined models. Be careful with these trim level amenities, however, because they can really cut into the hunting budget. Also, if you keep your trucks for a long time, fewer electronic gadgets mean fewer things to go wrong.


The Ram Heavy Duty has a new Center High-Mounted Stop Light (CHMSL)— positioned camera, the first of its kind in the heavy-duty pickup category, to provide a full view of the bed for easier hook-up of fifth-wheel or gooseneck trailers, as well as monitoring cargo. Chevy’s Silverado HD offers mobile WiFi, USB connectivity, Bluetooth phone connectivity, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and a navigation system.

Multiple charge points enable multiple electronic devices to operate simultaneously. Ford’s new Platinum trim level features a new storage area on top of the dash with two USB ports, audio-video connections, SD card slot and a 12-volt charging port for cell phones and other digital devices. It also features SYNC with My Ford Touch, a navigation system, power-adjustable pedals, rear view camera, remote start system, universal garage door opener and power- telescoping mirrors. You can’t have as many pickups as you have guns, so choose wisely. Get enough to get the job done, but don’t jump into a heavy-duty model unless your duties are truly heavy.

Bonus Video: Truck First Aid Kit

North American Hunter Top Stories